Our Campaign Beliefs — Part One

We have learned a set of truths while working on capital campaigns.

Three years ago, we created our 12 Campaign Beliefs to document these truths. As we continue to help clients navigate the campaign process, especially during a challenging year, we are reminded of their relevance and importance.

The number of capital campaigns will increase exponentially as the country improves economically. If you serve on a board or work for a nonprofit, we offer these insights as part of your deliberation and decision-making process.

This week, we will share our first six beliefs, and next week the second half.

#1 Relationships are more important than money. Always.

Too often, we witness leaders make transactional decisions. Asking donors to pay pledges early, for instance, may help cash flow but it will cost you the trust and confidence of donors. Long-term thinking and long-term stewardship of relationships are always more important than a short-term gain to balance a budget or balance the checkbook.

#2 A case for support is never, ever, about a need for money. It’s always about impact and how the organization is meeting deep community needs.

In seminars that we host, we often ask the participants to take a pledge, with hand on heart, to never, ever, talk about a need for money as a case for support. Why are we so emphatic about this? Because it happens all too often, and when it does, it makes the ask transactional. Yes, cash flow challenges are real, but that’s an internal issue. Donors want to know about the impact being made and the need in the community being met. When we connect donors to impact and community need, we build relationships rooted in mission.

#3 Data drives strategy, planning, and decision making. Quantitative and qualitative data tells a story — your story. Organizations need to be intentional about data collection and analysis. The findings must be understood and shared widely.

Your impact must be measured, understood, and shared. When you are intentional about data collection and analysis, then you have the basis for which strategic decisions can be made. Questions to consider include: What programs should be expanded, created or abandoned? How much revenue can be forecasted next quarter? What staffing adjustments need to be made? How engaged are our donors? Are we meeting the needs of our customers? We promise, data is your friend.

#4 Donors should never feel like an ATM. Which is why donor acknowledgement (a meaningful, timely, and accurate thank you) and donor engagement (cultivation before an ask is made and stewardship after a check is written) is so critical.

Effective fundraising is relational, not transactional. When the cadence of donor communication is ask and thank, ask and thank, ask and thank, then the message conveyed is as transactional as an ATM. To fix the never-ending cycle of asking, create meaningful donor acknowledgement and engagement.

  • Write thank you letters that are heartfelt, timely, and accurate.
  • Build a cultivation plan for donor prospects to find out if their passion aligns with your mission, and if so, how they want to engage with you.
  • Design a stewardship program for current and former donors that focuses on the impact their support has had on your mission and on community need.

#5 Invest in human resources, not just bricks and mortar. Campaigns are complicated and exhausting. Hiring the right team, and supporting them with the right resources, is an expense that should neither be delayed (let’s wait until we open) nor minimized (they are used to wearing many hats). Support your volunteers, too.

Campaigns fund construction, equipment, programs, endowments, cash reserves, and a myriad of other critical improvements, but we contend campaigns should also include growth in human resource capacity. Use a campaign to promote talented staff, elevate potential leaders, fund robust professional development and training opportunities, increase salaries, and create new permanent and/or contingent positions. Support your most critical resource — your people — and resist the tired nonprofit sector orthodoxies such as “everyone here makes sacrifices.” When you invest in capacity building, your organization will be healthier.

#6 When doing the math, show your work. No flub numbers allowed. Crunching the numbers and documenting the assumptions embedded in the budget creates a road map that is easy to follow, readily adjustable, and fully transparent.

We are often surprised by budgets that were created based on estimates and hunches, or worse — goals and dreams. While they may have some basis in industry averages, they may not have any semblance of reality with an organization’s actual data. Our counsel to you is to crunch the numbers. Determine your donor retention rates, calculate average gift sizes, forecast probability rates for corporate and foundation grants, understand gala sales and sponsorship trends, and know how many potential donors are being cultivated and how many are projected to make gifts at which levels. When you do, you then have the ability to document all the assumptions used to build your budget.

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